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Rwanda Massacre Sites Now Grim Memorials

But some say the past should stay buried

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In what was once a school gym, teams of forensic experts are working to preserve the remains of thousands of Rwandan Tutsis murdered by Hutus in April 1994.

In a tribute to memory sharply reminiscent of the work done by Holocaust survivors after World War II, the Gikongoro school compound in southern Rwanda is being turned into a memorial to the estimated 25,000 ethnic Tutsis herded there by local Hutu authorities and systematically killed over the course of three days. The murders were part of the genocide perpetrated by radical Hutus, which resulted in the deaths of at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

With its thousands of bodies laid out in former classrooms, the compound is a jarring, even repulsive sight. And it is only one of many.

In a laborious, painstaking process, the Tutsi-dominated government in Rwanda currently is disinterring hundreds of thousands of bodies from mass graves around the country and laying them out in piles for the public to see - and remember.

"We needed to preserve the remains of genocide so that people would not forget. It is fair to those who died and to those who remain," Gen. Paul Kagame, Rwanda's vice president and defense minister, said during a press conference late last month in Kigali, the capital.

Such public displays have upset some relatives of the victims, who have repeatedly asked for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned for a proper burial. "Some feel that this is no way to respect the dead," says an aid worker with the United Nations refugee agency in Kigali.

Asked whether the exhumation of genocide victims could reasonably be viewed as a healthy process or one conducive to national reconciliation, General Kagame said, "We have to prevent this from happening again in the future. We want to teach a lesson explaining that what happened was not an accident of history; it was a premeditated, deliberate attempt at genocide."

Part of what the government is trying to do is obtain a head count of victims of the 1994 genocide. International organizations estimate their number at 500,000. The Rwandan government claims the real figure is at least twice that high.


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